The wait is over, football fans. On Feb. 2, the Washington Football Team — which was their official name for the last 18 months — finalized their rebrand with a new logo and name: The Commanders. Here’s your Skimm on the history of why the team’s image needed a complete re-do.
What’s in a name? Centuries of oppression and racism, in this case. You might remember the Washington Football Team as the Washington Redskins. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, white settlers and others used the term “redskin” to refer to Native Americans — to differentiate Indigenous people from white people. One historian says Native Americans used the term for the same reason as well. But the meaning of the word later took on a negative tone, becoming straight-up derogatory. And in the 20th century it would take on another form…
As the moniker for the football franchise. But not initially: In 1932, they went by the Braves. And they weren’t in Washington yet. The team got its start in Boston. But it switched things up and became the Redskins a year later. That’s because Boston also had an MLB team called…the Braves. And the football team owner said ‘this could be confusing.’ The franchise found its home in DC in 1937. But it took decades for outrage to build around its racist name.
Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, the team faced criticism and protests over its name. And for years, Native American organizations and leaders asked the team to get rid of the slur. But they didn’t. In 2013, owner Dan Snyder even made headlines for his definitive stance on this issue. “We’ll never change the name,” he told USA Today. “It's that simple. NEVER.” (Narrator: They would, in fact, change the name.)
Then came 2020 and the death of George Floyd. It sparked a nationwide reckoning around the country’s history of racism. And sparked conversations around justice and equality for Americans of all races and ethnicities. In July 2020, after facing more pressure — including from major sponsors and partners like FedEx and Nike — the team announced it would retire the offensive name and logo.
Psst…Check out our guide for tips on how to be an ally in the fight against racism.
After nearly two years of researching (think: surveys, focus groups) and rebranding, the new name — Washington Commanders — has been unveiled. It’s considered a tribute to the military presence in and around DC, including the Pentagon. The team is keeping its burgundy and gold colors, including for its home uniform. And while its logo is still a “W,” it’s slightly different in style from the Washington Football Team logo.
Snyder put out a statement about the revamp. He said, “As an organization, we are excited to rally and rise together as one under our new identity while paying homage to our local roots and what it means to represent the nation's capital.”
The Washington Commanders’ new name is a much-needed refresh from its past. But changing disrespectful sports team names is just a start in the fight for racial equality and justice. And there is much more work to be done.
Skimm'd by Macy Alcido, Maria McCallen, and Kamini Ramdeen-Chowdhury
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